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Till the Clouds Roll By (1946)
A mixed but glorious bag
Yes, Robert Walker was not a great Jerome Kern and Van Heflin was completely fictional, and yes, the story line was tedious and sappy, but...all those incredible stars in one movie (despite some of the greatest ones like Kally and Astaire and Robeson being left out) in some of the most beautiful songs ever written (some of the greatest ones likewise also left out like "The Way You Look Tonight") just coming at you one after the other in sumptuous settings: what an unrepeatable and irreproducible gem of a movie! And the fact that Kern missed the Lusitania by oversleeping was replaced by a more dramatic plot line that had him trying unsuccessfully to catch that boat (We're all so glad he didn't!) and follow Frohman to England I thought was an actual dramatic improvement on what really happened.
But you know, to me the most telling aspect of the whole movie which reflected so perfectly American mores and prejudices of the day was the fact that nowhere in the movie was the fact alluded to that Jerome Kern was---Jewish! And to this day none of your 40 other reviewers betrayed an awareness of this fact. The Jewish movie studio heads like Louis B. Mayer and Arthur Freed were not about to compromise the success of their glorious effort by turning any portion of the movie-going public off. But that thick American anti-Semitism of the day was about to receive its rebuke just a few seasons later in Gregory Peck's Gentlemen's Agreement.
An incredible video has just been released by National Public Television on the Jewish heritage in the American popular musical. And astonishing as it is to realize that with the exception of George M. Cohan and Victor Herbert (Irish), Cole Porter (Christian denomination?) and Andrew Lloyd Weber (?) all the great Broadway composers and lyricists from Jerome Kern to Leonard Bernstein to Stephen Sondheim have indeed been Jewish and Jerome Kern was one of the greatest of them all. But this movie did its best to keep all that a secret (and succeeded.)
Home from the Hill (1960)
Something like the ancient Greek Drama
There's something very Greek about this compelling story as one generation visits its sins upon its offspring. Though some of your reviewers pointed out that the Rafe/Peppard character does not appear in the original novel for the life of me I can't figure out what the story would have been like without him. The development of his character and his gradual integration into his father's affection and respect is certainly one of the film's mainstays and very attractive features. If there was no Rafe character in the novel then I can only conclude that the movie script writers improved the story greatly.
I found the emotional relations between the different pairs of characters endlessly fascinating and gripping: Mitchum/Parker and their icy 18 years of separation; Theron/Rafe and their finding each other as brothers; Parker/Hamilton as the over-protective mama and her boy; Theron/Libby and their sensitive and beautifully scripted love scenes followed by their heartbreaking estrangement as Theron chooses his mother over his true love; Rafe/Libby and their equally brilliantly scripted encounters one after the other from Rafe's quiet admiration of Libby at the car washing scene to Libby's unburdening of her soul to Rafe in the restaurant and their final happiness in marriage; Mitchum/Libby's father as the one's cold dismissal of the other is eventually returned by the father's revenge and his assassination of the one he thought had shamed his family. The beautiful and emotional moments just keep coming at you one after another.
Everyone's acting was brilliant, Kaper's score was understated and beautiful, Minelli's directorial pace superb, and the scripting outstanding. Having never heard of this movie before but having sat enthralled throughout its almost three hours I thought this one one of the finest movies I have ever seen.
Bright Road (1953)
Another film celebrating education
This film falls into that genre of movies which celebrate education and the power of great teaching to influence and develop young minds and hearts especially through the medium of the fine arts. Besides the several films which your other reviewers cited I could add How Green Was My Valley, Renaissance Man, Konrack, Mr. Holland's Opus, The Chorus, etc. In this film the arts were represented by the students' staging of Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty, just as in Renaissance Man by the Shakespeare plays, in Mr. Holland's Opus by the ensemble music they all performed together, in The Chorus by all the music the students sang together, etc.
The CT character was admirably strong. Since he was by age a 7th grader in a 4th grade class he had already reached the stage of disillusionment and could strongly insist on the non-existence of Santa Claus as well as of a god in whose image they were all supposedly made but who had failed to solve the conundrum of two different images: white and black. CT wasn't having any of that and walked out.
I discovered that this was Harry Belafonte's first movie. Indeed he seemed rather stiff in his acting and delivering his lines.
I was surprised that the segregated school the students attended was a smart looking brick building. I always imagined them as wooden shacks. Was I wrong? A jarring note in the film was the white doctor at Tanya's bedside. It implied that black people weren't smart enough to become doctors, or more likely were prevented from being so.
I found the movie a rather sugar-coated version of black life in the south, but still, all the African-American characters were treated with respect and without condescension which I found admirable.
Shoe Shine Boy (1943)
Who was that trumpeter?
I was disappointed to discover that IMDb had no information as to the identity of the excellent trumpeter who performed on the soundtrack. Any way to retrieve this information at this late date? The silliness of this plot was that if this kid was such an expert performer on a valve trumpet (which he was) then why was he so interested in getting a simple bugle with no keys? Well, you could say that army bugles are keyless and that this was his ambition. But still, where had he ever learned to play so well, anyway? As to the racial prejudice in putting down black males as noted by another reviewer, the best answer to that was a comment I heard on another TV network about the famous Polish artist Arthur Szyk, who specialized in anti-fascist propaganda pictures during WWII. In one of his pictures (drawn about the same time this movie was made) a white soldier and a black soldier are walking side by side and the white soldier asks the black soldier what he would do about Hitler? The black soldier replies, "I would turn him into a Negro and put him down anywhere in the United States." That about sums up race relations in the US when this movie was made.
The Great Man's Lady (1942)
This film needs defending
Such undeserved condescension on the part of most of your reviewers! I thought it was an absorbing romantic drama in which Stanwyck was at her very best. As she turned from youthful sparkly-eyed amused flirt in her first scenes with McCrea into the mature more gray-haired woman seriously urging him to do his political best for those whom he represented, her virtuosity as an actress of transformations came greatly to the fore. It was a pleasure to respond to her in her various moods of youthful love, a stunned mother's loss of her two babies, her vigorous denunciation of her father in his unconscionable request of her, and finally the resignation of old age in which she at last destroys the long-lived marriage certificate she's been carrying around through most of the story.
McCrea was also very good, especially in the scene in which he confesses himself guilty of the same kind of corruption so rife in the American West at that railroad-building time.
The story seemed to echo the true events of The Ballad of Baby Doe (opera) in its background of silver mining and marital troubles; and it certainly resembled Edna Ferber-Abby Mann's Cimarron in retelling the story of a marriage in which the husband spends years on the road away from his wife.
The 19th-century flooding in Sacramento was certainly up to date given the similar events happening in that city in our own times as well.
A great movie. Pay no attention to those detractors.
Waterloo Bridge (1940)
WB's relation to an older play
I too was struck by the anachronistic costumes (WWII garb for a WWI story) as well as by the inaccurate depiction of WWI airwars and bomb shelters as noted by one of your reviewers. I thought another reviewer's point well taken as to how did Taylor actually reacquire the little good luck charm after Leigh's death. But Taylor's Americanism as noted by another of your reviewers was accounted for by Sherwood's original play protagonist as actually being an American (himself.) So that we can accept.
But I noted too that while your reviewers referred to Sherwood's original 1930 play as well as to the 1931 James Whale original movie version an important predecessor to this story seems to have escaped everyone, namely Arthur Wing Pinero's celebrated play, "The Second Mrs. Tanqueray" (1893). In this play, famous in its time for its faux-realism and its eagerness to put the question of prostitution onto the stage, a lady with a doubtful past likewise aspires to membership by marriage into the aristocracy. But when her past is discovered she too chooses suicide as the only way out. The parallels between SMT and WB struck me immediately. Perhaps WB is even more directly related to SMT than either Sherwood or Whale.
Herbert Stothart's score was quintessentially typical. HS' method was usually to take familiar melodies (such as "Auld Lang Syne") and doll them up with fantasy orchestrations. You can usually tell a Stothart score when you hear it.
Great Catherine (1968)
One of the worst films ever made
Great Catherine is the last Shaw play to have been made into a movie. And no wonder considering the slaughter these people made of this one. Not only is this the worst filming of a Shaw play ever created (though Sophia Loren's and Peter Sellers' The Millionairess gives it a good run in the awful department) it is for me one of the worst films of any kind that I've ever seen. If you think that people falling down drunk throughout a film (Zero Mostel's Potemkin) is amusing this film is for you. I however think this sort of baloney action is tedious and very unfunny. The only redeeming feature in this film is the Tiomkin score and the Russian peasants' greatly choreographed free for all at the ball. I used to think that what killed this film was the director's slowing down the action of the repartee from trippingly fast to turgidly slow but now having seen the film all the way through on TCM recently I've decided that every other part of the project likewise contributes to its stinkeroo lack of quality. Moreau and O'Toole swimming around fully clothed in the water of the destroyed model Bunker Hill battle---give me a break! To think of O'Toole participating in such a fiasco after Lawrence of Arabia, The Ruling Class, My Favorite Year, and countless other films in which he acts up a storm leaves me very unhappy and disappointed. I agree with another of your reviewers: if you want to see a film of a Shaw play this one should not be the one you see first! Both thumbs as far down as they can get.
It's amazing how great the movies have become in recent years. And Hugo is certainly one of the great ones. Some of your critics showed disappointment with the movie. I guess they were expecting something else. What I saw was a highly successful combination of biopic and documentary about a great film pioneer. We saw it only in normal vision without 3D so I can't comment on that. But all the sets and visuals were of course stunning and incomparable.
After all of Melies' talk in the movie about how he had to sell his films (about 500 of them) into destruction for making shoe heels, on the IMDb site we see the same 500 films going back even as far as 1896 when Melies started. So these films must be accessible in some fashion even today if only to have their credits listed. I remember back 20 years ago when I was residing in New Zealand the big news broke that one of Melies' films had been found in a local film archive and the discovery was all over the papers.
It was piquant to see portrayed on the screen real live contemporary to their time artistic figures like guitarist Django Reinhardt, painter Salvador Dali, and author James Joyce. My wife and I commented that one of the actors certainly resembled James Joyce and that's who he turned out actually to be in the film. When I saw the guitarist I said he reminded me of Django Reinhardt and that's exactly who he was supposed to be.
We were delighted to observe Scorsese's "Hitchcock moment" when he cast himself as a photographer taking Melies' picture in front of his studio.
What a precious way to become wrapped up in the early history of cinema through this extraordinary film! It reminded me of the movie The Road to Wellville (1994) which similarly immersed the audience in another time and period through its visual fineness and its portraying of genuine historical figures like the Kellogg brothers of Battle Creek circa 1900-1910,about the same turn of the century time as Hugo.
The Story of Will Rogers (1952)
The highest standard in film biography
It was a most uncanny and moving experience to see Will Rogers Jr. portraying his dad on the screen and looking just like him. This was unusual but not unique in film history: Eddie Foy Jr portrayed his father Eddie Foy Sr in Yankee Doodle Dandy with James Cagney as George M. Cohan(1942);and Andre Melies portrayed his father, the pioneer filmmaker Georges Melies, in Le Grand Melies (1952).
I was greatly moved by the whole experience of seeing this incomparable movie. The touching and sensitive way in which the filmmakers left out Rogers' and Post's death in their airplane crash raised the film to an even higher level of emotionally appropriate story telling. The Billy Mitchell episode was also trenchant and documentarily appropriate as was all the other skillful weaving in of contemporary events. The interspersing of life on the ranch with contrasting episodes from the wide world of Rogers' travels and his reaction to the depression-era's tragic altering of people's lives was beautifully portrayed.
Besides the fine acting by all concerned the sets and costumes were absolutely exquisite in recreating their eras in the story. Victor Young's adaptations of contemporary pop and folk songs of the time were skillful. Seeing Eddie Cantor himself acting and singing in this 1952 movie was very special to someone like me who actually heard him constantly on the radio during that same time period. The Al Jolson and Marilyn Miller clips were archive footage I presume, but where they dug up such high quality Technicolor episodes to put into this film is beyond me. Perhaps these were 1952 impersonations. However there was one serious flaw in this otherwise brilliant and affecting movie, namely the time line of the musical and historical excerpts and episodes. The movie had Rogers wandering around for two years and finally winding up at the St. Louis Fair of 1904 where he proposes to Betty. However, previously in the movie he had first met Betty in Oloogah about the time Oklahoma was to become a state in 1907. As part of the background time setting for this episode at the Rogers' home much was made of the song "Hello My Baby, Hello My Honey, Hello My Ragtime Girl" which wasn't written till 1909 as well as "Home on the Range" which wasn't written till 1912. So this musical and historical confusion goes along with the "nomination" of Rogers in 1932 at the Democratic convention, likewise fictional. Despite all that, a great and beautiful movie.
The Gay Sisters (1942)
Fascinating and dramatic--One of Stanwyck's best
Most of your reviewers certainly had an aversion to this film. One of them even asserted it had no music despite an excellent score by Max Steiner. I thought Barbara Stanwyck with all her emotional storms and plottings really sizzled. This must have been one of her best roles ever. I couldn't stop watching it though I came in somewhere in a courtroom scene after the beginning and missed all the prologues. I thought the emotional relationships of everybody involved were strong and fascinating. In contrast to most of your reviewers I thought the plot lines got wrapped up satisfactorily and clearly and I was quite happy with how everything finally turned out. Especially with Stanwyck and Brent trying finally to make a go of it basically because of their child. Call me soft hearted and sentimental but I felt for them and their final solution. Though this film rubbed most of your reviewers the wrong way I loved it and thought it was great.